Lima Beans can be found at the Ventra city hall if you look hard enough. Photo by Patricia Schallert
by Richard Senate
The beautiful Ventura City Hall sits like a grand dame over the downtown of our community. It was built over a century ago to serve as the Ventura Counties Courthouse. Few people notice that above the doorway is a strange ornament. They are pods of some sort of plant. An odd symbol for such an august building–but a fitting one. They are pods of Lima Beans! Their scientific name is Phaseulus lunatus but they are better known as lima beans or butter beans. Why are they there? Because Ventura was once the lima bean capital of the nation and taxes on the humble bean helped to pay for the construction of the courthouse in 1912.
They came to California from Peru (hence the name Lima after the capital of that South American nation). New evidence indicated they were really developed in Guatemala by the Native American peoples of that land. They found that in the 19th Century the lima bean grew well in Ventura’s soil. It is a dry crop with little need for irrigation and soon trainloads of the bean were shipped back east and Ventura became know for her butter beans.
In the 1897 World’s Fair, Ventura Counties contribution to the California Pavilion was a 97-foot-tall Chinese pagoda made and covered with lima beans. The pagoda was only fitting, because most of the beans were harvested by Chinese Laborers.